August 4, 2019  [Pentecost 8]  Luke 10:25-37  J.D.Roekle

 

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 

 

What It Means to “Be a Neighbor”

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          About halfway between Jerusalem and Jericho today stands a museum marking the place called the ‘Good Samaritan Inn.’  The church father Jerome who was born roughly 300 year after Jesus ascended, first identified this spot as the place that Jesus was talking about in this parable where the Samaritan took the beaten man he found along the road.  So, for some 1600 years, this spot has been marked.  Christian churches were even built on the spot through the centuries. 

          What’s remarkable to me about this is that this is a parable.  If you know anything about parables, you know that while Jesus always uses real life examples in his parables, he never indicates that all the details in the story are real.  Was Jesus referring to a specific inn where the Samaritan took the beaten man?  While the location of the Good Samaritan Inn is accurately placed on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, we have no way of knowing if Jesus was actually referring to this inn or any specific inn at all. 

          So why go to such great lengths to mark a site like the Good Samaritan Inn?  I don’t pretend to know the motivation behind it, but I would like to think that in preserving the memory of the Good Samaritan parable, they are preserving the lesson that Jesus taught.  After all, whenever Jesus speaks a parable, he is teaching a lesson.  And the lesson taught with this parable is what is means to be a neighbor. 

           So what is our obligation as Christians as far as our neighbor, or as far as other people are concerned?  The expert in the law who Jesus was speaking the Good Samaritan parable to stated it well: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”           Of course, he was simply quoting Scripture from Leviticus (19:18).  That’s what God commands.  Love your neighbor…as you love yourself. 

          Author Gary Burge writes about a modern day example of someone who took this command seriously in his book: Jesus, the Middle-Eastern Storyteller.  He said that an Israeli soldier lay dying in a Jerusalem hospital.  He had AIDS as a result of his gay lifestyle and was now in the last stages of his disease.  His own family had disowned him, including his father who was a famous rabbi.  The nursing staff knew his story and avoided his room.  Everyone was simply waiting for him to die. 

          One evening, the soldier went into cardiac arrest.  All the alarms went off, but neither the nursing staff nor the doctors responded.  However, there was a janitor on the floor who also knew this man’s story.  When he heard the alarms and saw that no one responded, he dropped his broom and attempted to resuscitate the dying soldier by performing CPR on him. 

          What makes the scene even more remarkable is who this janitor was.  He was a Christian Palestinian.  The soldier whose life he was trying to save was a part of the Israeli military unit that had attacked the janitor’s village. 

          Now that’s love.  Loving your neighbor as yourself.  Loving even your enemy.  That’s certainly similar to the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable.  Even though the Jews and Samaritans were at odds with each other, the Samaritan went out of his way to help the Jewish man who had been left for dead. 

          God wants you and me to be a neighbor to others as well.  The Apostle Paul enforces this truth when he says: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” (Galatians 6:10)

          How are you doing with that?  It is certainly easy to show love to those we are close to.  Our family members, our friends.  But what about those people who we don’t really know?  Or what about those we don’t get along with? 

          Now certainly, in order to express love for others by helping them, we have to have the ability to do so.  If you know someone who is an alcoholic or a drug abuser, you won’t likely have the ability to help them overcome the addiction.  But at the very least, can’t you point them in the direction of someone who can help? 

          The thing is, we often set up roadblocks to God’s command to love our neighbor.  What were the priest and Levite thinking as they passed by on the other side of the road, neglecting to help the fallen man?  They may have been thinking that if they stop and help, they might get beaten up too!  The road between Jerusalem and Jericho which Jesus referred to was known as treacherous road full of bandits.  Are we hesitant to help others out because it may get kind of messy and we’re just not up to it? 

The priest and Levite may have thought that this hurting man wasn’t really their neighbor.  He wasn’t a part of their known world.  He was a stranger that didn’t deserve their attention.  Is that the excuse we give when we see someone who needs help?  I don’t really know that person, or I don’t think that’s who Jesus wants me to help.

The priest and Levite also may have rationalized that they had no time to help.  They had more important things to do.  They had to fulfill the duties of their offices.  They didn’t have time for this menial work.  Is that perhaps your thinking?  I just don’t have the time to help my neighbor. 

Does the command to love your neighbor accept any of these excuses?  Yes, love your neighbor, but only when it doesn’t get messy or difficult.  Yes, love your neighbor, but remember that there are only certain people who qualify as your neighbor.  Yes, love your neighbor, but only if you have time and it’s convenient for you. 

No.  The law does not put up with our excuses.  The law condemns us even for sins of omission.  When we fail to do something that God commands us to do, that is sin.  When we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are sinning. 

It is then that we need to take these sins, too, to Jesus’ cross.  Jesus carried all our neglect, all our thoughtlessness, all our selfishness with him to the cross and buried those things with him in the grave.  Rising victoriously, Jesus assures us that our sins of omission will not stand as road blocks to our salvation. 

In saving us, let’s not forget the other extraordinary thing Jesus did.  He loved his neighbor as himself perfectly.  He came to help everyone and he showed it as he interacted, taught and did miracles.  Everyone was in his sights as he perfectly fulfilled the law. 

           During my recent trip to Israel, we learned firsthand from our guide the tensions that exist between Israeli citizens and Palestinians.  There is no love lost between the two groups.  So, what could have moved that Christian Palestinian janitor to perform CPR on that Israeli soldier, whose own unit had done harm to the Palestinian man’s village? 

          You know the answer.  It is the love of Christ.  Christ loved the janitor so much that he died for him.  If Christ could love him, he could also love his neighbor. 

          It is Christ who has also shown his love for you.  He is the one who motivates you and equips you in order to fulfill this command.  It is Christ who has shown you what it means to be a neighbor.  Amen.